Do You Need Supplements to Build Muscle?

Do you really need supplements to build muscle, and if you do, which ones are the best to use and which is a waste of your money?
By Peter Monday, October 31, 2011, 04:56 PM

Ever overhear a conversation between a beginner and a seasoned vet in the weight room? If you have, chances are one of the first questions the beginner asked was, “What supplements do you take?” Maybe you’ve even been THAT guy asking the supplement question! Is it a valid one? Sure. Is it one of the most important questions, one of the ones you should really focus on when you’ve got a big, strong guy to talk shop with? No way!

The thing is, supplements are just that – they are meant to supplement your dietary intake of calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. If you could get everything you needed AND every little extra you could ever want out of your food, then there would be no need for supplements. Therefore, you should first look to optimize your diet for strength and size gains. Sure, you probably already know about getting plenty of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs, but you can certainly take extra steps with your nutrition to ensure you’ve got all your bases covered.

Firstly, are you eating fruits and vegetables? A lot of bodybuilders ignore the produce aisle in their quest to get big and lean, but these foods contain something that meats, grains, and most fat sources are severely lacking: micronutrients! That is, vitamins, minerals, and all of those other complex chemicals that keep your body working at peak condition. So, which ones should you eat to get big and ripped? Frankly, I don’t know or care to learn all about the complex chemical interactions between muscle cells and a tomato, carrot, or banana. However, I do know that every bodybuilding and sports nutritionist worth his salt recommends eating a decent amount of fruit and just about all of the fibrous, low-calorie vegetables you can get your hands on. In short, if you’re not eating plenty of produce with every meal, quit being a tool and worrying about which overpriced, overhyped “pre-workout” supplement is going to make the “big difference” in your gains.

Second, are you timing your nutrients properly? WHEN you eat certain foods matters just as much as the food choices themselves! Carbs are of particular importance in this regard. Although some genetically gifted folks can eat their grains and potatoes at any time of day and not gain an ounce of fat, most of us have to be more selective. When are the best times to eat carbs? The easiest answer for most people is before and after a hard training session. You need some starches in your system just before you train with weights in order to fill your muscles with glycogen. You need sugars and starches afterwards to replenish those glycogen stores, temporarily raise insulin levels, and facilitate protein synthesis (muscle growth)! And as for other times of the day, you should focus on healthy fats, vegetables (as always), and of course, lean protein!

Last but not least, where exactly are you getting your daily protein? Are you eating a wide variety of eggs, lean meat, fish, and poultry? Or are you chugging down one protein shake after the other? Protein powders certainly have their place, especially post-workout. However, if you’re too lazy or “can’t find the time” to cook some real food, don’t go out looking for gains in a supplement bottle – it isn’t going to happen! Whole food sources of protein contain a variety of fats, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that you simply will not get from protein shakes, even those of high quality. You know that huge guy at your gym, the one squatting and benching unfathomable weights and whose arms as big as your legs? He didn’t get that way by avoiding the dairy aisle and the meat counter!

Now with all of that said, there may still be some of you wondering what the most important supplements are. If you’re eating plenty of quality protein and produce, planning your nutrition according to your workout times, AND still burning a hole in your pocket with some extra cash, there are definitely a few products worth your while. I’m not going to cover protein powder since we’ve gone over that before – it’s there to supplement your protein intake, and there’s nothing magical about it.

One of the best supplements for muscle growth is branched chain amino acids, or BCAA. Time and again, research has shown these three specific amino acids to be key in turning on the muscle-building “switch” within your body. They are also invaluable for preserving muscle if you’re in a dieting phase. However, they can get very expensive. There are a few companies which make high-quality, great tasting BCAA products, but if you’re on a budget, you’d better buy in bulk and take the flavoring into your own hands.

Another great supplement to try is creatine. Not some fancy creatine-containing supplement, not some crazy creatine with a hard-to-pronounce name designed to trick newbies out of their money, just plain creatine monohydrate. Time-tested over the last fifty or sixty years and dirt- cheap to boot, creatine aids workout performance by helping your muscle cells to produce ATP. ATP is essentially just cellular energy, so rapid production of it potentially means more reps with a given weight. With such a fantastic muscle-building benefit and low price tag, you can hardly afford NOT to give it a try.

One final supplement you might want to try is fish oil. This stuff is all the rage these days, and for good reason. It’s been shown to reduce joint inflammation, prevent fat gain, facilitate fat loss, and even boost brain function! The thing is, you’ve got to take a lot to notice much difference, and the good stuff is kind of expensive. However, the Omega-3 fatty acids are what’s really important here. If you can’t afford fish oil or if you want to avoid the nasty burps it can give you, just focus on getting more Omega-3’s in your diet. Salmon is a great choice.

Artcile by Sixpackfactory’s Muscle Building Expert and Top Fitness Model Justin Woltering. Get more info on Justin at: